By Deborah Walden
Nashville Arts Magazine introduced readers to Music Makes Us: The Nashville Music Education Project in May. The project seeks to revolutionize music programs in Nashville schools through dynamic connections between our public education system and our private sector. The program will strengthen the curriculum in Metro schools by offering both traditional music classes and new courses in hip-hop, rock band, mariachi, and world percussion. Studies in songwriting and internships in music-business-related disciplines will strengthen students’ core learning and prepare them for the city’s workforce. This month, we spoke to Mayor Karl Dean and new Music Makes Us director Laurie Schell about this initiative.
Music Makes Us embraces Nashville’s identity as Music City to tap into the valuable creative resources of our community. Mayor Dean relates, “I have always felt that Nashville should have music programs in its public schools that are world class. When people hear the name Nashville, they immediately associate the city with music. When they come here they expect music to be a big part of the city’s life, and it is. And that should be reflected in our schools.” In order to identify the strengths of its current music programs, the city hired a consultant to assess our schools and help chart the course for Music Makes Us. Mayor Dean explains, “What we learned was that the schools had really great music programs. The CMA had done a wonderful job of supplying music instruments to the schools, and we had excellent bands. But we wanted to have more advanced programs.”
In May of this year, Metro Nashville Public Schools brought on Laurie Schell to direct Music Makes Us. Schell, who has over twenty-five years of experience as an arts education advocate, comes to Nashville via the West Coast. Schell garnered national attention for her work as executive director of the California Alliance for Arts Education, where she helped secure $105 million in state funding for arts education. Schell claims of her new home, “Music is in the air here. You get off the plane and you walk through the airport and you feel the presence of music. This is the perfect community to launch this kind of program.” Schell is passionate that every student has a right to arts education. She states, “It’s not just about the social, emotional, and intellectual benefits of the arts. It’s about the law. It is part of the elementary and secondary education act. It’s not just for students in wealthy communities.”
Schell points out that the technology that drives contemporary music will help prepare students for life after school. “We are purchasing SmartMusic for all of the high schools in the district. Technology will play an increasing role in the program, so there is so much potential here.” A bright star in this new age of Nashville music education will be a full recording studio at Pearl Cohn High School.
Mayor Dean believes that Nashville’s music industry will help fuel the program and that the increased value of our music education programs will electrify the creative life of our city. He relates, “One of the things I think it’s important for us to do in our schools is find areas of excellence. Music is obviously a natural area of excellence for Nashville. The city has the largest concentration of the music industry of any city in the United States. We have incredible performers, songwriters, producers, just enormous talent here who can work with our schools and help create something special. We want Nashville to always be a city that is attractive to creative people, and I think recognizing the importance of music and arts in our high schools and middle schools and elementary schools helps us be a magnet for creative people. I think this idea is one more thing that reinforces music in our city and reinforces creativity in our schools.”
To read our interview with Nancy Shapiro of the Grammy Foundation about her work with Music Makes Us and to learn more about the recording studio at Pearl Cohn, see our May issue here: nashvillearts.com/2012/08/21/tuning-in-to-the-community/